Friday, 7 June 2013

Tracey Crouch on the Badger Cull

Here is Tracey's comment on the Badger cull taken from here and the Parliamentary rolls. Previous blogpost on this subject here.

When I spoke in a previous debate on this issue, I was one of few Conservative Members who stood
up, spoke, and then voted against the culling of badgers. I was surrounded by colleagues who profoundly disagreed with me, some of whom have barely spoken to me since. It was one of the most daunting experiences in my short time here. Today feels like groundhog day, although this time it has come with added pressure for me to change my mind or abstain on the matter. I have been accused—rather patronisingly—of not understanding the science and, worse, of condemning farmers in individual constituencies to further incidences of disease. I have been told that I do not understand the horrific impact of bovine TB in cattle, or indeed in badgers, and that culling badgers is actually a way to be kind to them, rather than being cruel, and thus my fears about animal welfare should be allayed.

Let me be clear: I have enormous sympathy for farmers affected by bovine TB, not simply because of the clear financial cost to farms, but because of the way the disease impacts on farmers’ lives and livelihoods, and often, as colleagues have stated, their mental health. I have listened to colleagues recounting stories from their own constituencies, and it is dreadful—truly horrible. However, I do understand the science, and the indiscriminate culling of badgers will not, in my mind, stop bovine TB from occurring in the future.
The eradication of bovine TB in badgers will not lead to the eradication of the disease in cattle, especially in a country with extremely high cattle movement. Cattle-to cattle transmission would continue, as already demonstrated in low-incidence areas such as Kent where evidence shows that that type of transmission accounts for 80% or more of cases. No other country in the world has yet eradicated bovine TB in cattle, and they certainly have not reduced it with culling alone. The Secretary of State was right earlier to refer to a package of measures, but he did not answer the question from my hon. Friend Mrs Main about the balance of success between those methods.

We must be realistic about what the badger cull, and these pilots in particular, will achieve. Our leading scientists note that a cull will reduce incidence of the disease by 16% at best, but even that figure is based on a long-term, large-scale cull. Therefore, the extensive, indiscriminate culling of badgers, three quarters of which will not have TB, will leave 84% of the problem. More worryingly, although bovine TB is relatively confined at the moment to certain areas of the country, a cull could lead to the problem spreading rather than being contained. To the colleague who told me yesterday that his farmers want a cull because they neighbour areas with the disease, let me say that I am against such a cull in order to protect those farmers, not condemn them. Badgers do not adhere to county borders and disperse under the threat of extinction. The cull will not make any significant impact in the pilot areas, but it could in those areas close by. It is welcome to hear from the Secretary of State that DEFRA is using other preventive measures to control the spread of the disease in those areas, but will that be enough?

I had a quick opportunity to read the report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee published today, and I congratulate the Committee Chair, my hon. Friend Miss McIntosh, on it. Severe criticism of departmental delays and publication of misleading information aside, it is clear that all sides wish to see a vast improvement in developing and providing a vaccine solution to the problem. As Kent Wildlife Trust put it to me, instead of culling badgers, the Government should further improve cattle movement controls and testing, and support farmers to implement simple biosecurity measures. They should prioritise the development of a cattle vaccine, and divert the estimated £6 million cost of licensing, monitoring and policing the pilot culls into a major programme of Government-funded badger vaccination. Only then will we get on top of this disease in an effective way.

I conclude by congratulating colleagues on this side of the House who will show their opposition to the cull by abstaining on the motion today. Within the Westminster village we know and understand why many feel uncomfortable going into the Opposition Lobby on an Opposition motion that is, in effect, non-binding. It is a nuance often misunderstood outside Parliament, but I thank those colleagues for their support all the same. I, however, will not be abstaining, and although it will probably make little difference in the great scheme of things, I want my voting record to show that I am against this barbaric, indiscriminate and ill-thought-through cull. I would prefer a science-led, welfare-oriented response to the control and reduction of bovine TB that protects both cattle and badgers from this nasty disease.

Unfortunately the government disagreed with the well argued position Tracey put forward.

The basic math is that Badger to cow infections account for 18% of cases. For that 10,000 badgers are ear marked for death by shooting doing irreparable damage to the badger population and local ecosystems in rural areas rather than invest in the longer term solutions.

As has become the way with this Government at times let us go for the quick and easy/cheap option rather than the right one and one that will pay off more in the long run.

Further to that there is the accusation that the Cull will not be carried out very humanely as trapping Badgers and shooting them in cages is expensive so instead we could be looking at trained marksmen taking pot shots at moving animals causing wounds or traumatic death as the animal crawls off and dies. More can be read in this Guardian article on the humanity of the Cull.

 What the hell? Is this the dark ages?

This sort of scorched earth policy and brutality is not the sort of thing we should be resorting to in the 21st Century - we should be looking at the better options.

I was appalled when I saw that there was a three line whip on the matter, one usually reserved for flagship policies and areas of extreme division such as Europe, and I was even more horrified to see Libdems voting for this policy.

I will say, however, good for Tracey sticking by her guns on this important rural issue. She was converted to the cause and has become a vocal proponent of the badger population and deserves the credit for standing up against the Government on this issue.

1 comment:

  1. I do so much agree with both you and Tracey on this. It surely cannot be beyond the wit of mankind not only to devise a better way, but also to decide on taking that route.

    The decision that was taken in the end appears to be very much the wrong one; and although I know little of the science of all this, Tracey seems to have a good grasp of it and made a very good case for the inoculation method as a better alternative.